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Op-ed | Fiscal crisis puts MTA in dire need of new funding

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MTA Chair Janno Lieber gets on a 1 train at Columbus Circle.
Marc A. Hermann / MTA

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the MTA is in a financial crisis. As we announced at our last Board meeting, the agency’s facing a projected $2.6 billion deficit in just a few years. We’re in dire need of new funding to keep our vital transit system – and the region – alive.

New York can’t function without strong public transportation. We rely on it like air and water, in good times but especially in bad.

COVID proved that mass transit was essential for the City’s survival. Everyone wanted us to keep running full service, even when the pandemic had us down to just 10% ridership, because essential workers needed it. And when the City’s recovery got underway, again we needed full service to power that revival.

Today, transit is still as essential as it ever was. There are dozens of working-class communities where ridership is back at the 80-90% level relative to pre-pandemic. Those New Yorkers are back to work five or even six days a week. They can’t afford a $50 Uber.

They deserve the same frequent, safe, reliable (and affordable) service they have come to depend on over time, even if more affluent New Yorkers are not using mass transit as frequently. It just doesn’t make sense that low-income riders should suffer with less service because others can work from home or commute differently.

So, we urgently need to fill our funding gap. The MTA will work with all stakeholders – Washington, City Hall, Albany, Comptrollers, advocates, budgeteers, and more – to address the Authority’s financial issues.

And we are ready to do our part, preparing to cut operating costs by more than $400 million by 2026. This will be achieved through a series of strategic moves, developed by our agency heads, that will save money without sacrificing any of the progress we’ve made on service reliability and quality.

We cannot wait to act. If the Authority doesn’t get the funding it so desperately needs from our government partners, the MTA Board will be forced to consider fare hikes, service cuts, and layoffs to balance the budget – something we are required to do by State law.

Shifting funds from the historic $55 billion Capital Plan is another last resort lever we can pull. But all four options would devastate the City’s recovery and set the MTA back decades. As the agency’s Chair and CEO, I’m determined to keep us moving forward.

Janno Lieber is MTA chair and CEO.

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